How do you not mess relationships up?
December 23, 2011 3:58 AM   Subscribe

How do you not mess relationships up?

You meet someone. A new friend, work colleague, lover, whatever. You get along very well, there's a good connection and chemistry. What do you do to ensure that that relationship stays fresh and well?

I have a bad habit of not taking enough care of the relationships I make with other people. What are your hacks to keep a good thing good?

DISCLAIMER: Of course, this depends on the relationship and the person, so yes there is no one size fits all, but there are some things that are generally true when dealing with people. And yes, there is a big difference between caring for a friendship and caring for a loving relationship.
posted by litleozy to Human Relations (32 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:09 AM on December 23, 2011 [5 favorites]

posted by cozenedindigo at 4:16 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Show your appreciation for the relationship.
posted by Garm at 4:17 AM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding communicate. More specifically, though, being a good listener. Being able to allow someone to express themselves without you cutting them off, finishing their sentences, thinking about what you will say next, or being lost in your own thoughts (in other words, genuinely caring about what they have to say) is an invaluable quality in any relationship. It shows that you respect the person, makes them feel valued, and so much more.
posted by seriousmoonlight at 4:18 AM on December 23, 2011 [15 favorites]

These 2 previous threads could be useful as well: 1 2
posted by cozenedindigo at 4:20 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I used to be a flake. Now, I call ahead!
posted by parmanparman at 4:22 AM on December 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

Don't take it for granted. Assume good faith.
posted by corvine at 4:33 AM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Nthing communicate

Know when to pick your fights

Go through things as a couple (for relationships), not alone

Listen instead of hearing

Be honest
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 4:39 AM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Pick genuinely compatible people with which to have relationships. Then no effort at all is required on either side.
posted by flabdablet at 4:55 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Relationships don't stay fresh. They mature and ultimately settle into an equilibrium.

Also, friendship generally and >especially< making new close friends become less important to many people over time who have more demanding careers and more fulfilling (and also time-requiring) family lives than they may have had when younger.
posted by MattD at 5:09 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't betray them even in your heart by devaluing them in any way, because that will eventually leak into your behavior.
posted by timsneezed at 5:41 AM on December 23, 2011 [7 favorites]

1. accept that it's only half Your Job, and treat what you have to offer like it has some value- cause it really does.
2. value who the other person is, not what they could turn out to be if you stay together for a long time.
posted by Blisterlips at 5:44 AM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Don't follow a script for how relationships are supposed to "look" and don't choose someone like they're an accessory.

On the first point, for example, don't do things just because other couples do it or there's a dominant cultural narrative telling you what everything is supposed to mean-everything gets defined by you guys --valentines day is just another day unless you decide it means something. Mr. Vitabellosi and I both forgot our one year wedding anniversary --most people are horrified by that -- we were delighted, because we're in love every day. It would suck to fight in the car all the way to dinner at an expensive restaurant just because it's scripted to go out to dinner on your one year anniversary -- and then to feel satisfied because you got your Kodak moment, but your partner feels like crap because you were crappy to him/her all day.

On the second point, don't pursue someone just because they "look right" --- again, just because you can make up a good-looking narrative for how this person fits in your life doesn't mean it's destined to be. The caricature for this is along the lines of "well, I AM in my late twenties, and it seems like I should be settling down, and this person is really nice, looks good on my arm, and my friends like him/her, so I should just do it." or even, "my friends are impressed that I'm dating him/her."
posted by vitabellosi at 6:01 AM on December 23, 2011 [8 favorites]



Never let things get too one-sided. Or even too two-sided.
posted by raztaj at 6:24 AM on December 23, 2011

Politeness. Say please and thank you.

Many people over the age of 5 have nobody to coach them to do this, so it doesn't occur to them. But it doesn't matter what else you're doing if you're not doing the basics.
posted by tel3path at 6:32 AM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Be available. If you aren't, book when you are then and there. A few "Let's connect later"s and people start to back off.
posted by jwells at 6:37 AM on December 23, 2011 [6 favorites]

1) Communication
2a) Be yourself from the very first moment
2b) This requires knowing yourself before you get into a relationship in the first place; but then people could argue that you need relationships with different types of people to get to know yourself. This is fine, but these are the relationships that get messed up, which is also fine, of course.
posted by TinWhistle at 7:23 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Accept that it is easy to hurt people even if that was not your intention, and when people tell you that you have hurt them, be able to apologize and see how they came to feel hurt. Far too many people are awful to talk to when they have unintentionally hurt someone: they deny they did anything wrong, or try to minimize what they did, or attempt to invalidate how the other person feels, or belittle them and tell them to get over it, etc. This makes that person not want to be around them, and gives them no choice but to leave because nothing will change.

It's true that there are some types that will get angry over unreasonable things and approach others in an overblown, accusatory, indulting manner, but for the most part I see people make the "I'm impossible to approach even reasonably" mistake ALL THE TIME. It's really surreal for me to see other couples interact this way. If someone says something along the lines of, "Hey, I don't think you realize you do this and I know you don't mean to hurt/annoy/disrespect me, but..." then the appropriate response is to hear them out, apologize that you have made them feel that way, and determine how best to avoid doing that again, e.g. stop teasing them about X in front of Y people, or make more of an effort to Z on a certain occasion that's important to them, or whatever. Getting angry with people who are honest with you in as sympathetic a way as possible is always the ultimate mark of doom in ALL relationships, at least from my observations. I can think of half a dozen people who have completely alienated their friends, family, and SOs and that's the one thing they have in common. It's the one thing you can do to ensure that no one can even begin to solve any problems that may arise -- and problems inevitably arise between even likeminded people, especially early in relationships, because you can't predict everything another person may find upsetting.
posted by Nattie at 8:01 AM on December 23, 2011 [24 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, also: don't be a coward. Always be honest as early as possible when something bothers you. Cowards have a bad habit of not being able to inflict small pains on other people -- i.e. they cannot handle confronting people about reasonable things for fear of hurting their feelings or not being liked -- so they wait until those things build up and inflict huge pains on those people instead, fleeing immediately after. Instead of having control over things, they feel better letting events blow up and force them into action.

- They will date someone for a long time and drag things out, making the person more invested, hurt, and blindsided when they break up.

- They badmouth someone behind their back, so that eventually the person is hurt not only by them, but by the people who listened/participated in it, and the people who didn't tell them. All this when a simple conversation or merely ceasing to interact might have fixed everything.

- They lie to avoid dealing with problems, so that the other person ends up feeling even more betrayed and develops trust issues when it finally comes out.

- They do things like cheat on their SOs because they can't have simple conversations about why their needs aren't being met, or they can't simply break up with someone when it clearly won't work out.

Those around the coward are always hurt way out of proportion to what was necessary.

I actually actively avoid people once I see them exhibit cowardly behavior, because they're an easy to spot subcategory of People Who Will Hurt You for No Good Reason Out of Nowhere and You Can't Stop it. Others cannot feel safe around a coward. The only way to even be friends with a coward is to ensure everything between you is always perfect -- which is impossible anyway, and which you cannot ensure with a coward especially because you won't get honest feedback. A small tick that annoys only the coward and no one else could build up into something insane later.

So "don't be a coward is essential," I think. That entails bringing things up early, thinking through the consequences of keeping grievences secret and acknowledging how much worse it will be when they find out later, and not being a delusional idiot who imagines they can keep up some pointless ruse his entire life. This is just as bad as being impossible to approach, it's just a slower relationship killer because it can take people longer to identify that they don't know the coward as well as they thought. I also feel it's more damaging to others in the long run.

What both have in common is how easy, and how much, you can hurt someone with no malice involved at all. (Only some of the coward behaviors require malice; most are attempts NOT to hurt someone that blow up in obvious ways the coward would like to believe won't happen for some reason.)
posted by Nattie at 8:50 AM on December 23, 2011 [72 favorites]

Along with everything else that's been said:

Accept that everyone's human, including yourself; forgive others when they do something to "mess up" the relationship (within reason) and be willing to admit, apologize, and try and fix things when you do it yourself.
posted by Gygesringtone at 8:59 AM on December 23, 2011

Say what you mean, mean what you say, and don't be a flake.
posted by devymetal at 9:48 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

-Keep your relationship sacred by not gabbing about private stuff between you and your SO to anyone on the outside, and this includes positive private moments. Never, ever badmouth your SO to others.

-Even in an intimate relationship you should maintain some boundaries and slight mystery. If you're living together, put effort into looking nice in their presence. Don't treat them like a roommate.

-Respect their boundaries.

-Don't bring up issues over and over again that you guys have agreed are resolved.

-If you repeatedly find yourself having to hold back your affectionate urges because you're worried they'll feel smothered, you're with the wrong person.
posted by timsneezed at 10:27 AM on December 23, 2011 [10 favorites]

Give them 100% trust. My gf's can go out as they please, whenever and with whomever they choose, provided there's nothing romantic/sexual going on. I have a lot of female friends, and expect the same freedom. Going out all night? Not a problem. Hell, in Vegas I practically expect it every once in a while.

This has gotten me screwed over in the past, but I'll never change it. Jealousy just isn't my thing, and when I see it in someone else, I leave (jealous people cheat -- 100% of them).
posted by coolguymichael at 10:44 AM on December 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

This is something I'm learning right now too - thanks for saving me an askme. :-) Here are some things I've been thinking about.

Nattie's advice about dealing with unintentionally hurt feelings is right on. No matter how irrational you think it might be, acknowledge that you've hurt them and work towards resolution. That may mean accepting that you can't control their reaction and trying to understand how to love and serve them better in the future, in whatever context your relationship is.

It's really hard to fight with someone in a fair way, but even the strongest friendships have fights to work through. Just don't disappear, mentally, physically or emotionally, when things get tough.

It's really hard to trust someone completely, but without trust there is no relationship. If you promise to do something, do it. So few people are truly trustworthy, and you have to be careful who you entrust with your life, whether dating or friendship, and you have to be careful about whose life is entrusted to you.

I think there's also an element of personality and ask vs. guess culture - if you understand yourself and them, it helps you find ways to make your relationship work. Find ways to communicate that are healthy. If you feel or think something, say it. Keeping your thoughts and feeling secret only make things worse for you and your relationship.
posted by guster4lovers at 10:48 AM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

I don't think it's helpful to just say "communicate," because when it comes to communication it's definitely quality over quantity. Communicating with your partner doesn't mean telling them every little thing that bothers you, or using them as a platform from which yo psychoanalyze yourself, or as a repository for every thought that passes through your head.

So before you slosh your thoughts and feelings onto your partner, first communicate with yourself. Pause more. Try to be honest with yourself about what you truly want from a particular situation and interaction, and then remind yourself that things might not turn out as you planned, and that that's okay. Take a moment to note what's going on with your partner right now, and consider whether your timing is okay. Consider external factors, such as whether hunger, anger, loneliness or tiredness is affecting your judgment (I often mentally refer to the recovery slogan "HALT" -- an acronym for those factors). And then you're really ready to communicate.

Also be sure to forge and maintain relationships with others (friends, family, therapist) so that you have a healthy outlet for sorting out all the shit going on in your life and don't overly depend on your partner for this kind of support. It will make the time you have together more feel more effortless and harmonious.
posted by hermitosis at 12:07 PM on December 23, 2011 [18 favorites]

corvine is right: "Assume good faith."

Other than that, assume nothing. Ask.

Don't assume you have plans (or don't have plans), but spell them out. Don't assume it won't bother the other person if you invite someone else along, want to change plans, want to be alone, want to X, Y, or Z. It doesn't mean you can't do what you want, but don't do what you want without knowing for certain what the other person's feelings and opinions are. And don't let the other person assume, either. If something is important to you -- being called if the other person is going to be late, being considered for holiday plans, whatever -- spell it out. It's not about being bossy -- neither of you control one another -- but about being clear regarding what you consider important.

"I didn't know" is a lousy thing to say or hear at the end of a relationship, or after one is over.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 1:30 PM on December 23, 2011 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, some really really great answers here. I've added best answer for the most more relevant to me, but not to imply that there aren't some fantastic other answers.
posted by litleozy at 1:43 PM on December 23, 2011

Since this references friends etc as well:

Arrange a regular time to hang out. Dinner, a shared activity, whatever. Just, if they seem important enough, make it part of your schedule. See them every Tuesday, or fortnightly, or whatever.

I have dinner with one friend weekly, watch tv with another, and used to rockclimb with another. It's what gave us space to communicate etc.
posted by Elysum at 2:56 AM on December 24, 2011

As a corollary to what Nattie said - don't force people to become cowards if they'd rather not.

For example, if somebody calls you and says, "Hi, litleozy, didn't we agree on seven?" and then tries to explain that they travelled two hours to get to you and it really causes them problems if you show up late with no warning: don't blow up at them, and scream at them that you're late because your life is hard, and it's their fault for living two hours away from you, and you never think about what they have to go through, and they're such bad company anyway that it's no wonder they drag their feet about coming out to meet you.
posted by tel3path at 7:51 AM on December 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

Um, not that I'm suggesting you would do that, OP.
posted by tel3path at 10:12 AM on December 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have not had time to read the other answers but there is one simple fact: Relationships always get messed up, and unmessed, and messed again. Always, forever. Enjoy the mess or get out and get into another mess.
posted by nickji at 4:59 AM on December 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have this problem, too, and would like to get better myself. Here is what I plan to do: with women, I would call more often and be thoughtful of gifts, compliments, praises, support..., with men, look good and be courteous, find a connection (similar interests, conversation, sports....).
Foods always works with everyone. Buy gifts of foods or take people out to eat. They love it.
posted by bossanova at 3:39 AM on December 27, 2011

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